The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

A ripple effect

St Ninian’s High School in Kirkintilloch is one of the first schools to be awarded the Excellence in Professional Learning Award by GTC Scotland

The Professional Learning Awards Panel assembled in St Ninian’s High School conference room in June. It was a panel made up of headteachers, local authority and GTCS staff. We were there to learn about the professional learning community at St Ninian’s, to hear about the learning culture, and ultimately to make a decision on whether the school should be given an award.

St Ninian’s already has a long list of awards and achievements, and it does great in terms of attainment. But the essence of this latest award it had been nominated for perhaps underpinned many of these other successes. This award was about the heart of the school – what makes St Ninian’s, St Ninian’s?

The Headteacher, Paul McLaughlin, opened the day by saying he hoped to give the panel a flavour of “who they are”. The “come and see” approach certainly allowed this, with the panel hearing from senior management, holding focus groups with staff and parents, and visiting classrooms to hear from pupils.

Award Criteria

Over the course of this pilot year, the Professional Learning Awards, including their supporting framework and criteria, are being “co-created” between GTC Scotland, award participants and partner organisations.

The GTC Scotland model of professional learning formulates the guiding principles for the award, with the key overarching question of enquiry for the panel being, “What is it like to be a learner here?”

The panel at St Ninian’s was also looking for evidence of:

  • strength of the provision of learning for those participating in the learning community
  • strength of the development, knowledge and skills of those leading the learning community/ provision.

Paul explained that at St Ninian’s, they had “set out to develop a culture rather than high-quality professional learning”, with the core purpose of the school being “to enable young people to fulfil their potential”. “Schools are about much more than what’s going on in the classroom. We’re about developing young people,” explained Paul.

The sense at the school that everyone is welcome and anything is possible, for both student and teacher, was overwhelming. The reasons for this, attributed by their nominee, Marie Clare Tully, Chief Executive of Colomba 1400, were the commitment of staff, the ability and drive of the young people, and the community feel. In Paul’s words, “If you get values, attitudes and relationships right, that’s what makes a great school.”

As staff, pupils and parents spoke about their school throughout the course of the day, that sense of loyalty and belonging to St Ninian’s, the essence of the school community, shone through.

There is a focus on leadership in the school, and not in the traditional sense. But with every person being a leader of their own learning, and being given the opportunity to take forward their ideas. This was supported by a strong partnership with Colomba 1400, an organisation offering leadership experiences for staff and pupils on the Isle of Skye. Those who took part described these experiences as having a profound impact on them personally and professionally, while the impact rippled outwards to others in the learning community.

Depute Headteacher David Sheeran explained that the Colomba 1400 values are the same as the school’s and that these values are entrenched in everything that they do: awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance and service.

The first pupils participated in the Ambassador Leadership Academy on Skye in 2007 and groups of both pupils and staff have been going ever since. Pupils talked about how the positive ripple effect of this experience not only emanated to others in the school, their friends and family, but also on their following life experience, helping them to see their potential, develop a vision and identify the smaller steps required in order to get there. Staff too at all levels reported that the Skye experience led them to identify initiatives that they would like to take forward, and helped them to share in the headteacher’s overall vision for the school. 

Celebration of success

This September, GTC Scotland held its first Excellence in Professional Learning Awards ceremony. Successful schools and local authorities, nominated to take part in this first pilot year, have been through a rigorous accreditation process and were be celebrated at the event.

The Excellence in Professional Learning Award for Schools and Learning Communities is held for a three-year period. It celebrates and recognises schools and learning communities which promote, support and lead professional learning to have a sustained and significant impact.

Read more about the Professional Learning Awards celebration

Teaching Scotland

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins teachingscotland@gtcs.org.uk


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